Crain’s Best Managed Nonprofit 2013
Winning Futures succeeds with growth strategy crafted amid the recession
Winner: President and CEO Kristina Marshall
By Sherri Welch (Reprinted with permission from Crain’s Detroit Business)
In the years since the recession, the Warren-based nonprofit has more than doubled its annual revenue to $1.2 million, enabling it to increase the number of high school students getting life skills, goal setting and strategic planning mentorship. Last year, 1,100 students went through its programs, up from 500 four years earlier.
Its 2008 launch of a strategic growth process targeted to entrepreneurial companies helped position it for growth by emphasizing a series of quarterly, annual and multiyear goals and a high level of accountability for meeting them across its board and staff.
Among other approaches, Winning Future’s board shifted from advisory to active fundraising with annual targets for each board member.
It also merged with the struggling Rare Foundation in 2009, inheriting and growing the Detroit Tigers Opening Day party. And it retooled its sponsorships, enabling it to secure new corporate funders for its events and programs.
Winning Futures has used the increased revenue to grow in a controlled way, expanding its programs — with help from mentors from the business community — from four schools in 2008 to seven schools in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, while maintaining program quality and impact.
It began collecting and comparing pre-assessment and post-assessment data from teachers, mentors and students in 2007 in consultation with Saginaw Valley State University. More than 95 percent of the 649 students going through the programs over the past six years reported in post-program surveys that they’ve gone on to continue their education after high school.
For all of those reasons, Winning Futures is one of Crain’s Best-Managed Nonprofits of 2013.
The agency operates with nine full-time staff members, up from three in 2009. Last year, it engaged 434 volunteers from the local business community, more than double the 195 it saw three years earlier.
A past volunteer, former board member Gino Wickman, business coach and founder of Livonia-based EOS Worldwide LLC, helped Winning Futures adopt his Entrepreneurial Operating System in 2008. The strategic plan, usually employed by for-profits, includes 10-year targets along with three-year, one-year and quarterly goals to get there.
“The best part of the model is that it gets you into a very innovative mindset when doing our long-term strategic planning; and then on a short-time basis, it provides us with a system to measure our progress and hold everyone accountable to the goals that have been set,” said President and CEO Kristina Marshall, who was the first mentee to go through the Winning Futures program in 1994.
Every staff meeting, board call and new program ties back to the goals and long-term strategy, she said.
Winning Futures has used the system to help it boost revenue by connecting with companies in industries beyond automotive and diversifying its funding even more to include the United Way, new events revenue and revenue from contracts with area schools and the sale of its workbooks and training materials. Schools and mentoring agencies in 38 states are now using the workbooks.
The board has also played a role in growing revenue. Its shift to a fundraising board took several years and some turnover among directors, but last year the 14 board members brought in more than $100,000 by raising at least $5,000 each through individual, corporate or foundation donations, event tickets, sponsorships, personal cash donations and items donated for auctions. Crain’s Managing Editor Jennette Smith is a board member.
This year, each director has committed to raise at least $10,000. The board is on track to raise more than $175,000 by year’s end, Marshall said.
The efforts have put Winning Futures on a path to growth, with revenue increasing from $331,000 in 2008 and $500,000 in 2009 to just over $1.2 million this year.
Even while growing, Winning Futures has placed a strong focus on succession planning to ensure its success doesn’t hinge on its founder, the late Sam Cupp, former CEO of Warren-based Hamilton Chevrolet Inc., who died last year; and its other two longtime leaders, Marshall and Vice President Laurie Tarter.
All activities from specific fundraising to administering the scholarship program to mentor retention are laid out in individual how-to documents.
That level of documentation has helped the small organization seamlessly continue its programs over the past few years as unexpected staff emergencies arose taking staff out of the office for months at a time.